Pockets Are a Tool of the Patriarchy

jeans with a piece of paper in the pockets

“I love your dress”

“Thanks, it has pockets!”

How many times have you heard this exchange?

Chances are if you’re a dress wearer you’ve probably exclaimed the latter yourself.  You also probably squealed in excitement in the store when you realised this item of clothing you already loved had the unimaginable–it was a flattering, stylish dress that made your bum look gorgeous AND it had pockets! Giddy on the adrenaline of being able to carry things you rushed to the till and bought this illustrious item. Then on your first night out wearing it you relished in being able to have your phone on your person and waited for the opportune moment to announce to your friends that you had something they could only dream of. A dress with pockets.

This might sound ridiculous and far-fetched, but that’s genuinely what it feels like as a person who wears clothes designed for women. So many of our clothes are designed to be form fitting with ‘clean lines’ that they lose their functionality.

If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. Look at your everyday outfit. For me it would be a shirt, pair of jeans and a jacket. Now you’d think at least two of these items would have functional pockets. My go to coat is a faux leather jacket, on appearances it looks like it indeed does have pockets, but if you try to put your hand in there you’ll find it’s a tiny fake space. Onto the jeans, again these are jeans right, they have pockets? Guess again. My jeans that are made more for showing off my body do have 4 pockets, but the front are tight things that don’t even wrinkle when you bend over- because nobody wants wrinkles near their genitals. The back ones are short things that sit perfectly on your bum but you can barely even fit a credit card in. Oh and sometimes, just sometimes, all three of these items do have pockets. But on girl-shirts it’s usually that annoying tiny boob pocket that you can’t even fit your change into at the bar never mind your phone.

“As Christian Dior said: “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.”

Let’s compare this with ‘male’ clothing. Say a man is, structurally, wearing pretty much the exact same outfit as you- shirt, jeans and a jacket. The jeans alone will have more pocket space than your whole outfit. I say this as a fact because when I’m wearing jeans I can’t fit a single thing in them, meanwhile my boyfriend will have his phone, keys, big car keys, wallet and my phone in his. Then on top of that he has pockets in his jacket that can carry glasses, a bus pass, a bar of chocolate and a small plant (this actually happened once).  As Christian Dior said: “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.”

There’s actually only one item of ‘girl’ clothing I can think of with good pockets–the winter coat. This is the holy grail of pockets. The reason we love winter coats so much, along with the warmth, is because we can fit our whole lives in them. Most only have two pockets, but they’re like caverns of wonder.  In a standard winter coat I can carry my purse, phone, keys, bus pass, gloves and lip balm. A pal of mine once got thirsty mid shop and remembered she had a milkshake in her coat pocket!

But then you remember that the only reason winter coats have big pockets is because they’re designed to cover up our bodies and protect them from the cold, nobody cares if coats are unflattering- you take them off.

In the olden days, everyone carried bags – well, pouches attached to their belts or waists. But when male clothing integrated these in waistcoats, suit jackets and even on trousers, while women had to cut slits in their dresses and hide big bags under petticoats that acted as secret pockets under these glorious billowing gowns. They could fit everything from a sewing kit and snuff box to writing materials and glasses. But when skirts got tighter after the French revolution, women’s clothing slimmed down leaving no space for girls to exclaim “look it has pockets!”

Enter the handbag and what would become a multi-million dollar industry in itself.

So because we can’t carry all our essentials in our pockets we carry bags. But we already carry bags with our lunch, books, extra layers, water in that makes it impossible to find our essential items in. Which means we have to carry a smaller bag with all our must haves in along with the bag we already carry. We’d rather women carry two bags than design clothes with accessible pockets.

When the New Woman in the first wave of feminism donned jackets that made it easier to ride bicycles with real pockets they were made fun of, they were seen as being defiant against men, to pose a threat to their masculinity and even make claim to male privileges such as the right to own property.  Barbara Burnam said pockets were an expression of “how much that body can inhabit, confront or command the social world”.  It may not be a coincidence that women’s pockets disappeared during the French revolution, a time when the state wanted women to be reined in and afraid. Take away their ability to carry their belongings safely without fear of mugging and you take away their ability to go out alone.

As with a lot of things, when women complain about the lack of pockets in our clothes we’re derided by men–“don’t you have bigger things to complain about?”

But why would they think it was an issue?

Men don’t complain about pockets because they have all the pockets. They don’t have to juggle everything or carry extra weight on their backs. This is why they’re a perfect metaphor for sexism and the patriarchy.

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